The Ultimate Burger

A spicy sliderI love hamburgers.

I am currently trying to live a slightly more healthy lifestyle and have had to cut down on my consumption greatly. When I do have one, however, it has to be absolutely divine – and this can only be guaranteed with lots of care and attention, which meant that the last time I indulged in some I prepared them myself.

It all started innocently enough. My brother invited a few common friends over to my place for burgers because he knows I can cook a mean burger, so given that we hadn’t had any in ages I decided to go all out.

The first decision I took was not to put all my eggs in one basket. Given the occasion I could not risk making a mistake in the recipe – so I opted for sliders and came up with five different patty combinations. So we had a target: six of each of the patty varieties and thirty 3″ (10cm) buns.

I wanted to allow for quite a bit of freedom, so I prepared garnishes and left them in the centre of the table, then everyone could create a different combination per patty. For each of the (meat-based) patties I used the same mixture of beef:

  • 70% brisket, 30% topside, minced twice and chilled to around 7oC (45oF).

The combination of cuts makes for a slightly fattier but much tastier burger. Chilling the meat serves two purposes: it makes it easier to keep the patties together without additives and it delays the interior’s cooking time, which will help you achieve a crunchy exterior and moist interior.

I made four meat-patty varieties in all:

Preparing the ingredients

  • Plain – Just added some freshly ground pepper
  • Onions – mixed some finely chopped onions into the beef.
  • Spicy – mixed in paprika, chilli powder and onions
  • Italian – This was the weirdest experiment. I mixed chopped tomatoes, cubes of parmesan cheese and chopped Milano salami in with the beef patty.

The fifth was considered by my guests to be an abomination – falafel burgers based on this recipe from the BBC. No surprises here, even though I usually love them, they paled in comparison to their meat-based cousins so this is the last time I’ll mention them.

The selection of garnishes included:

  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Gherkins
  • Jalapenos
  • Three varieties of cheese
  • Ketchup and Mayonnaise

Everyone could create their own combination every time I served a round of burgers. I was grilling them for 3-4 minutes per side; toasting the buns for 2-3 minutes on another grill just before serving them.

Grilling on maximum heat

It is crucial to allow the surface to heat up as much as possible before placing the burgers on it – this will help crisp them slightly on the outside while allowing the centre to remain moist. You must never press the burgers down with a spatula while cooking them, you’ll only be draining the juiciness from them.

The result was, as expected, a set of some of the finest burgers I have tasted in years (if I may say so myself). My personal favourite was the second variety, the one with very finely chopped onions (pictured above), but all of them seemed to make a hit. The “Italian” burger generated interest, but we all agreed that the plainer the better.

I still have a lot to learn about the hidden art of hamburgers, but trust me, following in my footsteps will set you on the right path.

(#19 of 366 X 2012 project)

Badass Burgers?

After all the hype that’s been going on about this relatively new restaurant in St Julian’s (Spinola Bay actually), we finally made it to dinner there last Saturday. Before tackling the issue of Badass Burgers directly there is some background information I need to divulge:

a) I am a gourmet burger fan – I think that the burger is oft-overlooked as a decent meal simply because it has been rendered so common by its popularity. In reality, even though hard to find, a very good burger can be one of the best meals around.

b) I make my own gourmet burgers – Since it is rather hard to find a decent burger on this island I have resorted to researching the subject in depth and have started making my own burgers recently. That way I get to choose my own meat (my preferred choice is rib-eye), bun, cheese, sauces, condiment and most importantly cooking method and time. One day I’ll go into more detail about all of these, but that is a whole thesis in itself.

c) I was influenced before going there – I had spoken to the reviewer from Ed Eats (he writes on Vida and The Times) and he was not exactly screaming praise for the place (to be fair he tends to prefer fancier dining experiences), my sister – who had a terrible experience because her order was forgotten and her food took over an hour to get to the table – and a friend who had been there a few times and had nothing but positive comments about the restaurant.

With the background information over we can move on to the experience itself.

Logistics (3/5)

Getting there was a bit of a nightmare since it is in St Julians. I was famished by the time I had arrived since, much to my chagrin, the two female members of our party took the best part of two hours to get themselves tarted up for the event (this had no bearing on my rating). Parking in the area is an absolute nightmare. Thankfully the restaurant has a small car park right next door – a true luxury. Sadly it was full by the time we got there so we had to compete for parking with every Maltese person looking for a drink on a Saturday night.

Design, Decor & Atmosphere (1/5)

There are few places I have visited in Malta that have ever been such a disappointment. From the outside it looks lovely – it is situated in what is essentially still a very pretty part of St Julian’s and the building itself is quaint. Once inside, however, all the positive aura is lost. The walk up to the “beer garden” takes you too close for comfort to the kitchen, up a bland staircase and finally over a little bridge and up another narrow flight of steps. There were bits and pieces of restaurant paraphernalia strewn along the way and the walls were in an average state of repair (a few posters along the way would do a world of good).

This would have been nearly fine if what we found up there was worth the adventure, however, sadly it was not. The tables and chairs are decent, as was the cutlery, however when paying a premium price for food I expect to find nothing but the very best. I don’t expect to see clutter on one end of the restaurant. I might sound harsh, however the pricing really raises expectations. The menus were another nightmare – if offering a premium product I would expect menus which whet my appetite – not a drab affair which was a freebie from your wine supplier. To be fair the board advertising the Badass Burger range outside the restaurant is brilliantly designed – as is the concept’s facebook fan page. The Facebook page also states a new full-colour menu is on the way.

And then there was the music. What were they thinking? The mixtape seemed to have been prepared by a schizophrenic donkey – rock leading into Manu Chao leading into chillout and then back to pop. Restaurant owners, please take note, music is a big part of a location’s appeal and is worth investing in as much as plates, tablecloths and chairs. If you can’t be bothered, at the very least put the radio on (and believe me, I would rather hear nails scratched across a blackboard most of the time). Leaving someone’s ipod on shuffle is definitely not an option. Take the time, ask a friend, make a playlist and you will notice the difference. Choose a style and stick to it, it will become part of the location’s identity.

Food (4/5)

Ahhh – after all the complaining you shall be reading some smile-worthy news here. The burgers are worth all the suffering you have to endure. I went for The Daddy which offered everything a man could want (except this), stuffed into a burger. I would have liked more jalapenos, however the complaint is a very mild one. The burger patty was cooked to perfection – all the ingredients went well together and for the ten minutes it took me to devour the burger I was in paradise.

All the party was quietly nodding in appreciation at the food on the table – even the anaemic one who went for the veggie burger. The only problem with the food was that the fries, albeit being tasty, were cold and mushy. If going through all the fuss of making proper fries (from real potatoes :) ) then at make sure you serve them fresh and crispy. Having said that, not a single one was left on our plates by the time the waiter took them away.

Value (3/5)

This is another point this restaurant suffers from – probably the major point. I know I started off this piece by saying that the humble burger deserves a better place in the echelons of tasty food but at the end of the day you are paying the price of a decent steak for a (very special) burger in what is essentially a place which looks like the Kazin down the road.

Overall (3/5)

I am faced with a big dilemma when speaking about this restaurant – I loved the food and will definitely recommend it to friends who go out in search for a very good burger. I will also surely return to try out more of their delicious burgers, however I will not take the risk of recommending it to an acquaintance without mentioning all the caveats and won’t take anyone out for dinner there.

The place, just like my opinion, seems to be caught up in a split personality syndrome and basically just needs to fix one of two things – either fix the presentation or else lower the prices (and therefore expectations) significantly. The usual Maltese recipe is to spend 6 months coming up with a fancy menu and a lovely place, then letting it all down with mediocre food. Badass burgers has done the opposite, which is just as evil in my eyes. If I’m asked to pay a premium price for my food I will gladly do it, but then please bless me with a premium atmosphere. I want the waiters to spoil me and I want to feel as if I could live at the table for the rest of my life. The place must look lovely and the music should be good and well thought out. Am I asking for too much? Maybe I am, but I think I have every right to once I’m paying good money.

Mr or Ms Badass Burgers, if you read this review please do not take it harshly – I mean well and hope you can see it. I appreciate that the challenge you have taken is not an easy one, however please keep in mind that a restaurant is far more than a good (excellent) meal.